About this time last year Stella and I took a road trip through the southwest. We began in Santa Fe, at Stella parents' place, and made our way through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Along the way we stopped in Bluff, Utah, a town where Stella's family used to stop on their way to the family ranch in Wyoming.
To call Bluff a one horse town may be overstating it. Though compared to many towns around it, Bluff is the happening place. I mean, it has a steak house and a surprisingly good coffee shop with delicious blue corn pancakes. The town is named for the red rock cliffs that tower over the San Juan River. The San Juan flows into the Colorado River, eventually carving out the Grand Canyon.
While we were in Bluff we paid a visit to Gene and Mary Foushee. Reading up on Bluff, it looks like no trip would be complete without a visit to their house. They are woven into the fabric of the town. Everyone knows Gene and Mary. Stella knew them from her childhood visits to the roadside inn they used to own, the Recapture Lodge, which they started running in the late 1950's. When the Baers visited Bluff in the 80s, Gene and Mary led folks on hiking trips into the desert. It was the rocks, not the lodge, that brought Gene from North Carolina to the Utah desert. A geologist by trade, he gave us a crash course in how this part of the world came to look so striking.
When talk turned to church, I learned Gene and Mary are Episcopalians, which is not a common breed in the desert. I told them I am working to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, a notion that Gene visibly approved of. I asked him where an Episcopalian goes to church around Bluff. Turns out, there is a mission not more than a mile from their house. Gene says we should head over and meet Father Red Stevens.
St. Christopher's Mission was started in 1943 by Father Baxter Liebler, a Brookly New Yorker who served parishes in Connecticut, St. Paul's Riverside and St. Saviour's Old Greenwich, a parish he founded. Gene and Mary started going to the Mission in '59, and the knew Father Liebler well. Father Liebler died in 1982, before I was born, but I felt a strange camaraderie with my fellow transplanted Nutmegger. The Navajo called him "the one with the long hair who drags his garment," making him the grandaddy of Brooklyn hipsters.
When we got to the mission we weren't quite sure where to go. We stumbled across a couple of women cleaning up after a food pantry distribution. We asked if Father Red was around. Turns out we had just missed him. We asked if it was alright if we look around, which it was. The mission looks something like a dusty farm meets an old west ghost town. There are several buildings along the edges, and there were a few people working. In the back is a beautiful old mission building. It's nothing like the rest of the property, but built out of the same pink rock bluffs that tower over it . The center of the property is dominated by the chapel, a pyramid-shaped, otherworldly structure that looks like it might launch into space at any second.
In Psalm 137 the Psalmist asks, "how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" Walking through the pyramid spaceship chapel, we saw a few print outs from a service the previous Sunday, hymns that we knew and have song again and again over the years. We saw Navajo weavings of Jesus. For a moment we felt at home, surrounded by pink bluffs and cottonwoods.